A lot of people are interested in programs that will help them get their video out there and on the web, looking good, and being creative. I am a fan of technology, but tend to think too many people believe that a program will save them instead of just being creative and doing what they can with what they have.
That being said, I want to talk to you about a few programs that are free or very inexpensive, and well-worth taking some time with to help create the fx you want.
First off, let's talk about Photoshop. Yes, I know, it isn't free. But it isn't the program I'm going to talk about so much as what can be done with it. Photoshop can allow you to do some very nifty things in video, such as create mattes, virtual sets, shadows, blood spurts, etc. But the program is expensive, and, let's be honest, not terribly easy to use. However, there's an alternative. It's called Paint.NET and it's a free program that is actually very powerful and very easy to use. And it is ideal for creating some wonderful fx. I am using it to create virtual shadows (which can REALLY enhance a scene), mattes, blood spurts, etc. About twenty minutes of YouTube videos had me up and running, and I was able to create some excellent fx. You can get it at http://www.getpaint.net/ I do suggest downloading some of the plug-ins to help enhance your effects and comps. A read-through of the forums doesn't hurt either. Is it exactly like Photoshop? No. However, it's a nice, inexpensive asset to have on your desktop. Unfortunately, it's Windows only.
How about After Effects? Man, that is a fantastic program. And, again, expensive and difficult to use. However, there's an alternative. It's called WAX 2.0 and it will do much of what After Effects does, comping, rotoscoping, etc. However, it does not have a motion tracking engine, and can be a little unweildy when lining up your compositions. The answer then is to keep your camera locked down when shooting your effects (that running gunfight you wanted, well, you may have to compromise by shooting it in several locked down shots instead of an unsteady hand-held or dolly). You can add shake of some sort in your editing program. You can find WAX 2.0 here http://www.debugmode.com/wax/ You can also edit in WAX, but it will only edit in .AVI format, which can make for some frighteningly large files. I suggest only editing the footage with the effect on it in this product. But you can now replicate those awesome Freddiew style gunshots without spending the money on After Effects.
Let's talk about editing programs now. I use Avid Liquid for the most part, though I am learning to use Final Cut Pro, as well. I prefer Liquid because it is a fully integrated system, very powerful, and it does much of what I need to do more efficiently than any other program I've ever seen on the market. The problem with it? It's no longer available. I could explain how Avid bought up Pinnacle, and then buried Liquid almost immediately in order to stop it's encroaching on Media Composer, but there's no point to it. Now, in order to use my beloved Liquid, I had to add a step to my workflow so that I could edit AVCHD footage with it. But, honestly, it's not that big of a deal.
So, what about the people who want to make a movie, but can't afford to purchase a system like Final Cut, Media Composer, Liquid, Edius, or Sony Vegas? Well, at the lowest end of the spectrum, you have Windows Movie Maker. My only real issue with WMM is that it isn't really frame-accurate. It's a little like editing between two VCR's without a flying-erase head and no edit controller. Which is to say, it's old school and not accurate. It also has very poor audio controls. BUT, if it's all you have, USE IT! Use it until you can't stand using it anymore. Use the hell out of it! You can learn the basics of editing from this program, and it's free.
Or, you can use Videospin, which is also free. http://videospin.en.softonic.com/ Pinnacle, the makers of Liquid, created this free editor to introduce people to editing. It used to have its own website and forum/tutorials, but those are gone the way of Liquid. It's still out there though, and it's ideal for the beginner.
So, now let's talk about the ones that will cost you a bit. Not too much, though. If you're a young person, we're talking around the cost of mowing 6 yards in your neighborhood (if you're charging at least $20 per yard). I've suggested these programs and seen some people do very cool work with them.
Magix Movie Edit Pro - this is an all-around good little program, fully featured, easy to use, fun to work with and extremely stable. Depending on which version you buy it will cost anywhere between $59-$129, and it will do much of what you need it to do. It has good effects, decent color correction, a good audio editor, and the ability to output to directly from the timeline. I like Magix products, and often use their Music Maker program to create incidental music, stings and sound effects for my own videos.
Pinnacle Studio - Again we're back to Pinnacle. There are a number of reasons I love their products, mostly because they are very easy to use, fairly powerful, and come fully loaded with lot's of effects. Studio also comes in three versions ranging in price from $59-$129, and this is one I suggest going the higher end route for. Why? Well, let me put it this way. Red Giant Toolkit. Yep, this one comes with an integrated version of Magic Bullet Movie Looks and a powerful Motion Graphics toolkit. Again, easy to use, fully featured, and very powerful. They also supply a green screen with the purchase, which is cool enough, I suppose, though I'm not sure I would call it Free since you're paying more for the program.
Premiere Elements - It retails for about $100, and it's fairly easy to use. I'm just not a huge fan of the Adobe product line, even though I always say that if you can use Premiere, After Effects, and Photoshop, there is nothing you can't do.
There's another product out there called Hitfilm, and I'm extremely impressed with what it does. Basically an integrated graphics/compositing/editor system, it's a bit more expensive than the others, but I've seen some extremely cool things done with it recently. It seems to work like After Effects, but the cost is quite a bit lower as it ranges from $149-$574. They have a free trial which I keep wanting to download and play with if I ever get some free time.
But, here's my rule for making cool movies. Don't worry about tools you don't have. Use your creativity instead. If you want to create a cool monster, make a cool monster suit in your garage or patio, and go out and shoot with it. Or use stop-motion animation to create it. Or a puppet. Use whatever you have. Making movies, especially in the beginning, should be about the cool stuff you can do right now, using your brain and what you have. Your toolkit will grow as you do.
By the way, just to let everyone know...the first Cheapest Movies Ever! trailer will be premiering on Halloween. Of course we'll put the link here, but we're also going to plaster it all over the place. I can't wait for you to see it.